Fire kills 18 mi­grants at Al­ge­ria camp

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

AL­GIERS: A fire sparked by an elec­tri­cal fault killed 18 African mi­grants, in­clud­ing chil­dren, and in­jured 50 oth­ers yes­ter­day at a camp in Al­ge­ria, of­fi­cials said. The blaze be­gan be­fore dawn at the camp hous­ing more than 650 mi­grants in Ouar­gla, 800 km south­east of Al­giers, Colonel Farouk Achour of the emer­gency ser­vices said. Two chil­dren and three women were among the vic­tims, the of­fi­cial Al­ge­rian news agency APS said. Sev­eral hours later the na­tion­al­i­ties of the vic­tims were still not known. “The fire broke out at 3:00 am (0200 GMT), killing 18 peo­ple and wound­ing 43,” Achour said by tele­phone.

A source at the emer­gency ser­vices later put the num­ber of in­jured at 50. The pres­i­dent of the Al­ge­rian Red Cres­cent, Saida Ben­hab­iles, said the fire was sparked by a short cir­cuit. “A short cir­cuit trig­gered the explosion of a heater and the fire,” Ben­hab­iles told AFP. She said that 27 peo­ple were still be­ing treated in hos­pi­tal. The emer­gency ser­vices rushed to the scene to ex­tin­guish the fire. Au­thor­i­ties have opened an in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Pres­i­dent Ab­de­laziz Boute­flika also dis­patched the in­te­rior and health min­is­ters, Noured­dine Be­doui and Ab­del­malek Boudiaf, to Ouar­gla to fol­low up on the sit­u­a­tion, APS re­ported.

The for­eign min­istry set up a cri­sis cell to “mon­i­tor the sit­u­a­tion and iden­tify the vic­tims”, a state­ment said. Since a 2011 up­ris­ing tipped Libya into chaos, Al­ge­ria, which has long bor­ders with Mali and Niger, has be­come a top North African des­ti­na­tion for sub-Sa­ha­rans seek­ing a bet­ter life.

Thou­sands De­ported

Ben­hab­iles said that more than 4,000 mi­grants from Niger have been re­turned to their coun­try by Al­ge­ria since 2014. She said that 400 more mi­grants were due to be sent back to Niger from Ouar­gla, but it was not clear if any of them were from the camp hit by the blaze. The mi­grants at the camp were housed in a ware­house set up by the au­thor­i­ties last year where thou­sands of peo­ple, namely from Mali and Niger, have sought refuge.

Ac­cord­ing to Ben­hab­iles, the mi­grants are free to come and go from the camp. “They are con­stantly on the move. One day there could be 2,000 (mi­grants) and the next they are 200,” she said. “We don’t lock up peo­ple as they do else­where.” Oil-rich Al­ge­ria has been a mag­net for sub-Sa­ha­ran Africans who use it as a tran­sit stop as they at­tempt to reach Europe. Mi­grants who first ar­rive in Al­ge­ria of­ten con­gre­gate in the deep southern town of Ta­man­ras­set, near the bor­ders with Mali and Niger, be­fore mov­ing to cities fur­ther north to eke out a liv­ing.

Women and chil­dren can of­ten be seen beg­ging on the streets. News­pa­pers have car­ried re­ports of the harsh con­di­tions faced by mi­grants in Al­ge­ria, in­clud­ing sev­eral cases of women be­ing raped. Al­ge­ria passed a law in 2009 stip­u­lat­ing that any­one con­victed of il­le­gal mi­gra­tion can face up to six months in de­ten­tion while peo­plesmug­glers can be jailed for up to 20 years. — AFP

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